Friday, September 19, 2014

Bigger, stronger Paajarvi wants bigger impact with Blues

Winger takes team's message home, returns 
with impressive results, ready to fight for minutes

ST. LOUIS -- By his own admission, Magnus Paajarvi had a full understanding of what kind of hockey team he was going to after getting traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Blues.

Going from the Oilers, who have been on the outside looking in on the playoff picture in recent memory, to the Blues, who have thrust themselves into the topic of conversation when it comes to elite teams in the Western Conference the past couple seasons, was more than appealing to the Norrkoping, Sweden native.
Magnus Paajarvi

But Paajarvi, who came to the Blues as part of the trade that sent David Perron to the Oilers in the summer of 2013, exited his first season in St. Louis with many of the same labels he came here with: a fast skater that can shoot but doesn't play enough of a physical role.

But playing under coach Ken Hitchcock, the 23-year-old Paajarvi had a tough time fully grasping the tough-minded, hard-nosed, physical style he had to implement into his game in order to be in the lineup on a consistent basis.

So Paajarvi, who had six goals and 12 points in 55 games (the most he's played since his rookie season in 2010-11 when Paajarvi played 80 games), sat down with Blues coaches and training staff and mapped out a different program and regimen that included adding some strength to the quickness after not dressing in six playoff games against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The result? Paajarvi added eight pounds of muscle, most noticeable in his upper body and he's gone from 202 pounds to 210 on his 6-foot-3 frame. 

"We talked at the exit meetings last season back and forth and they wanted me to win more races and stuff and be a little bit stronger," Paajarvi said after Friday's opening of training camp for 2014-15. "That's what I've been doing. I put on eight pounds so, yeah, it's definitely a little change. I'm a little heavier, but it feels like I have the speed or even more. 

"I feel that I'm stronger for sure upper body-wise. I've always had the legs. Upper body-wise, I feel like I'm stronger. It's exciting. ... I feel like I put on muscles. I feel like I'll be even faster. If I can be stronger as well, that's really good. It's the first practice, but it's full speed. You really felt the pace going compared to last week where you're just at about 80 percent. Now you're at 100. I feel really good."

Paajarvi, who skated with Philip McRae and Ryan Reaves during the first group's camp drills Friday, has sort of been the forgotten man heading into this season.

With all the talk about the Blues' additions (Paul Stastny, Jori Lehtera, Peter Mueller, Joakim Lindstrom, Chris Butler, Nate Prosser) in recent weeks and how they would fit into a roster that has few openings but many bodies fighting for jobs, Paajarvi's name has been left out of the water at times.

"He really got our attention with what he did in the summer," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's a big, strong guy now. He started last year as a light, fast player. We changed his fitness routine halfway through (the 2013-14 season) and focused on upper-body strength. He bought into that and took that program into the summer and he's come and he is one, fit, strong guy right now. He's exactly what we need. He's going to have to fight for ice time, he's going to have to fight for a spot, but man, he's done a job to get ready to be a big, strong forechecking player. He's done everything we've asked of him and he's ready to go."

Paajarvi, drafted by the Oilers 10th in the 2009 NHL Draft, understood that he couldn't stand pat. He realizes Hitchcock's style is to forecheck without the puck in order to get it. And in order to effectively accomplish that feat with regularity, he needed to strengthen himself physically, particularly the upper body.

Did it work?

"Yeah. Otherwise I wouldn't (have done) it," Paajarvi said of his new-found program. "I feel like that's the next step. You're always trying to find the next step to be better and develop. That was definitely the next step I needed. I've been doing it this summer. Now it's just putting it (from) off ice to on ice. That's what I'm trying to do now."
(Getty Images)
Looking to make a bigger impact with the Blues this season, Magnus
Paajarvi (56) added eight pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame in the off-season. 

Paajarvi has shown flashes of why the Oilers took him so high in the '09 draft. But the consistent game has seemed to elude him. As he begins his fifth season, Paajarvi, who has 32 goals and 70 points in 218 career games, feels he's fully equipped himself physically for a high level of competition that comes with a training camp. He had no choice, or else he could find himself on the outside looking in again.

"It's one of the deepest teams in the league for sure, but there's always going to be competition," Paajarvi said of the Blues. "Whether it's here or back in Sweden or in Russia ... it's always going to be competition. You've got to perform to stay. You've got to do what you're meant to do and do your role as best as you can. You can't really focus on 57 other guys. That's not how I work. I focus on myself and hopefully, the rest will take care of itself."

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